For the Love of God, Volume 1/October 25

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By D.A. Carson About Devotional Life
Chapter 300 of the book For the Love of God, Volume 1


2 Kings 6; 1 Timothy 3; Daniel 10; Psalm 119:1-24

IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, there are two explicit church offices. On the one hand, there are pastors (the word comes from the Latin expression for “shepherds”), who are also called elders or overseers (the word rendered “bishops” in older translations). On the other hand, there are deacons. It was not until the second century that bishops became a kind of third rank of ecclesiastical authority, supervising several pastors/elders under them.

So when Paul briefly outlines the criteria for becoming an “overseer” (1 Tim. 3:1-7), he is in fact providing the criteria of the pastoral office. Brief reflection on some of his points may be of help:

(1) At one level, the standards Paul provides are not particularly elevated or difficult. There is nothing about an elite education, a certain kind of personality, belonging to the aristocratic sectors of society, or displaying a certain kind of leadership capability. The list includes things like not getting drunk, not being quarrelsome, and the like.

(2) With the exception of only two qualifications, everything else in this list is elsewhere mandated of all Christians. For instance, if the overseer is to be “hospitable” (3:2), the same thing is laid on all Christians in Hebrews 13:2. If Christian pastors are not to be “given to drunkenness” (3:3), neither should any other Christian be. In other words, what must characterize the Christian pastor, in the first instance, is that he display the kinds of graces and signs of maturity that are being imposed on all believers without exception. So the Christian elder is to be a model of what Christian living should look like. In that sense the standards as a whole are high indeed.

(3) The two that are distinctive are as follows: (a) The Christian pastor must be “able to teach” (3:2). That presupposes both knowledge and the ability to communicate it. That is the distinctive function of this office. (b) Christian pastors must not be recent converts (3:6). Obviously that excludes some Christians. What “recent convert” means will doubtless vary according to the age and maturity of the church, as the criterion is necessarily relative to how recently others have been converted.

(4) The tight connection between the home and the church (3:4-5) is quite startling. Not every Christian father is eligible to be an elder in the church; every Christian father is nevertheless presupposed to have elderlike functions to discharge in his own home.

(5) Several of the qualifications are bound up with the distinctive responsibility of this office. If he is to teach, the elder must be hospitable, maintain a good reputation with outsiders, not prove quarrelsome, and be untouched by money’s attractions. A merely bookish theologian with no love for people will not do.

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